Friday, April 6, 2018


GHOST RIDER #1 - May 1990. Never read any of these before. Gaping hole in my ‘90s awareness.

I knew how huge GHOST RIDER was in those days, thought it looked cool, but never checked in on it. This is the book that made Howard Mackie’s writing career, justifying his position on Marvel’s top titles.

Originally intended as a bookshelf format project, probably just to keep the trademark alive, someone at Marvel looked at the pages and declared this should be a monthly. Bookshelf books were geared towards older readers, so even though #1 did run with the CCA seal, it’s more violent than most of Marvel’s 1990 line.

The back of its first trade earnestly describes the book as “grim and gritty,” referencing Stephen King. The first page of issue #1 also cites King *and* the 1980s hysteria about Satanic cults sacrificing cats and babies.

I can see why kids bought into this. It’s a collection of proven Marvel concepts, executed with bold art. Danny Ketch’s origin is a combination of Spider-Man and the Punisher. Gang activity in public place, Danny’s an insecure teenage wimp, blames himself for his sister nearly dying in a shootout. Circumstance transforms him into Ghost Rider, a cop friend of the family resents the vigilante, vows to bring him in.

All this, and the Kingpin, ninja henchmen (dressed as the Hand but not identified as so), a corporate-themed villain who kills incompetent flunkies, etc. So, it’s 60s Stan Lee mixed with the 70s Ghost Rider design, a healthy serving of 80s Frank Miller, and the 90s style thrown in. To be blunt, not one original concept in the first issue. That’s more of an adult complaint, though. I understand why kids loved this.

GHOST RIDER #2 - June 1990. Texeira hasn’t worked on the covers yet. Honestly, they’re rather dull.

Opening pages are what the kids now call “edgelord” stuff. Apparently some vampire is after the series’ plot device, and he kills a cop and his family to gain info. Mackie’s awkward prose doesn’t mesh with horror so well.

Actually, there’s a lot of slain families this issue. A few of the pages are creepy, but the scripting is so bland, it doesn’t read any different from standard superhero exposition speak.

Oh, of course the cop determined to bring down Ghost Rider is also the father of Danny’s girlfriend. And she’s named Stacy! Okay, Captain Stacy actually liked Spidey, but that was Stan playing *against* clichés all the way back in 1970.

GHOST RIDER #3 - July 1990. Witness the horror of two lame villains in bad hair metal fashions!

First arc is completed, with Ghost Rider preventing the release of the plot device canisters. We learn the two new villains both want large segments of the population to die, because one gets off on death and the other wants an eternal darkness. Bad ‘90s stuff.

And the exit of Blackout, who escapes Ghost Rider by ducking behind a tombstone (?) is just laughable.

There is one good idea in here, though. The Kingpin has been chasing the canisters, too -- because he’s adamant they can’t be released. I love stories that have the Kingpin trying to save New York. It’s a fantastic element of his character; he truly loves his city and will fight against terrorists with the same zeal as any superhero.

We also see Ghost Rider explicitly killing people for the first time. Is it okay because he’s offing cannon fodder ninjas? Does Danny have control as Ghost Rider? When does Ghost Rider decide to kill or spare a life? Does he have a code of honor? Is he truly a “he” or an “it”? Should I assume all of these answers will be botched soon?

My biggest question as a kid -- what’s under Ghost Rider’s clothes? More skeleton? Is it on fire?

GHOST RIDER #4 - August 1990. We have Tex on the cover now, but only in the corner box.

More Tex than ever in the interiors, providing finishes this issue. What kid wouldn’t love this?

Hyde runs afoul of bikers, Mackie puts minimal effort in undoing the status quo Peter David established for the villain, and Ghost Rider takes them all on.

There is a nice idea, about the bike finding Ketch even when he declares he’s done with it. He can’t avoid his destiny, can’t resist fighting injustice, even as he finds Ghost Rider’s methods deplorable. That is a solid conflict for an ongoing title.

The script lacks any personality, though, so the conflict is sold poorly. And Ghost Rider would likely be creepier if he went full Snake Eyes and just didn’t speak, period.

GHOST RIDER #5 - September 1990. Jim Lee cover, in his PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL glory.

I have no memory of seeing this issue as a kid. It probably sold out fast. This might’ve been the issue to convince me to sample the book, if I’d actually seen it.

Texeira is again finishing over Saltares. Marvel had to know Tex’s flavor was the visual draw of the book. Keeping Saltares around is smart, though. He provides solidly constructed figures and full backgrounds. Maybe, on his own, Tex couldn’t have managed this on a monthly deadline.

Danny’s inner thoughts claim Ghost Rider’s never killed anyone, when he outright murdered those ninjas in #3. Mackie also doesn’t seem to know Punisher’s monologue is expressed through his War Journal entries.

No shortage of dumb stuff this issue. A journalist speculates Punisher and Ghost Rider are the same man, due to the skull gimmick. And with no evidence, a later report from this hack convinces Punisher that Ghost Rider has been arming local thugs.

This leads to the mandated misunderstanding fight. We discover Ghost Rider is bulletproof this issue. The anti-heroes fight inconclusively, then literally tumble into the real villain. It’s, ah, Flag-Smasher.

One cool bit in this issue: Danny wants the bike to transform, but it doesn’t respond to his demands. Innocent blood must be spilled first, so Danny can’t just ambush a group of punks. Trying that nearly gets him killed this issue.

GHOST RIDER #6 - October 1990. The cover is going full-Tex now.

Saltares is back to full pencils, with heavy Tex inks that wash everything in his style. Flag-Smasher has no business in this book, but they do what they can.

Earlier issues were vague on Danny’s age, but now we learn he’s 18 and works as a bike messenger. I realize Danny was never going to be the selling point of this book, but as a character he’s been so poorly drawn it’s hard to care about him.

The Punisher team-up concludes, with Ghost Rider preventing Punisher from killing Flag-Smasher. Interesting that he’s intended as an “edgier” type of hero, but Marvel has decided not to play him as a killer.

And, more continuity-on-the-go. Ghost Rider can magically rebuild his bike if it’s destroyed.

GHOST RIDER #7 - November 1990. Culturally insensitive cover blurb. Issue your apology, 1990 Marvel.

This is Texeira’s first issue penciling and inking. He’s overpowered Saltares so often, it looks essentially the same. One or two figures are lumpy, but likely no one could tell the difference.

Marvel’s Scarecrow hasn’t accomplished much, but I like the guy. Using him in the edgier Baxter-paper books wasn’t a bad idea.

They’re going full edgelord with Scarecrow, but notice his atrocities are off-panel. Later, geez, they have the now-batty Scarecrow kill a mom and her baby. This is not long before McFarlane has Hobgoblin go nuts and kill groups of innocent people. All that and first-person captions from the villain’s “disturbed” POV. The quickest, laziest means of going “Dark” in this era of comics.

And Dan’s sister, who’s been in a coma since #1, is murdered by Blackout for vague reasons in the hospital. Every subplot page devoted to Danny feels pointless. There’s a good idea here that he’s now drawn to the bike, and can’t help becoming Ghost Rider. That’s fine, but it’d be nice if Danny’s life felt even remotely real.

So, that’s the very first GHOST RIDER trade, which they explicitly tried to market to Stephen King and Clive Barker fans. Did they succeed? Maybe. The art’s stylish and creepy and perfect for this era. Also, some of the ideas I view as cliché now likely did seem daring in 1990.

I can now see why every GHOST RIDER revamp ditches Danny, though. Seven issues in, he’s a cardboard personality with the blandest supporting cast imaginable. Did any kid invest in his life? Or were they flipping through the pages, waiting for the flaming skull and motorcycle to appear?


dschonbe said...

There were 2 'Danny ketch classic' trades that reprinted the first 20 issues if you're willing to keep going...

G. Kendall said...

Thanks. I think I might go all the way to #25 if there's any interest.

Matt said...

You got mine

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